Chile's first lady says miners won't be abandoned

AP News
Posted: Aug 31, 2011 12:51 PM
Chile's first lady says miners won't be abandoned

Chile's first lady on Wednesday reassured all 33 rescued miners that the government won't abandon them, a day after she announced early retirement benefits for just under half of them.

President Sebastian Pinera's wife Cecilia Morel said Tuesday that 14 of the miners who are at least 50 years old or suffer from health problems that prevent them from working will receive lifetime pensions of about $540 a month.

The miners themselves helped decide who among themselves who should qualify for the pensions.

Most of the others have yet to find steady work, and some are facing a financial squeeze because they've been taken off medical leave, meaning the state-run workplace insurance agency no longer pays their salaries.

Morel said when she presented the pensions at the Regional Museum of Atacama in Copiapo that this government didn't just fight to bring them to the surface after being trapped for 69 days deep inside a collapsed copper mine.

"Now we have to keep helping them, because their experience was very traumatic. They should feel that the government has not abandoned them, that they are part of Chilean history," she said.

Shift foreman Luis Urzua, one of those who will receive the pension, thanked her for the gesture and stressed that the miners' ongoing lawsuits accusing Chile's mine safety agency and the mine's owners of negligence should not be seen as an attack on the government.

"We've always had a good response from the government to our requests," he said.